Once upon a time in Rio de Janeiro, there lived a footie-mad lad named Romario, with two favourite pastimes: kicking a ball around and chasing skirts. Yes, we’re about to delve into the audacious world of the Brazilian legend Romario. The world that was as full of goals as it was of gals. A tale of football, fun, and a heap of flamboyant shenanigans. (Hat tip to our friends at The Upshot for setting us on this trail.)
But first, a bit of context. Romario’s career was a feat of biblical proportions. With a tally of over 1,000 goals, only a select few legends of the game can claim to have reached that lofty figure. From the Brazilian league to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven, then to the Nou Camp with Barcelona, and finally back home with Vasco da Gama, he scored buckets of goals wherever he set foot. But it wasn’t just goals that kept Romario busy…
Born and raised in the brutal favelas of Rio, Romario was hardened by his early experiences, surviving a savage attack by stray dogs. This fiery spirit served him well, although he wasn’t always in control of it. Selected for the World Youth Cup squad in 1985, his antics saw him packing for home early after he was caught relieving himself off a hotel balcony. But it wasn’t all bad news, as he’d caught the eye of his hometown club, Vasco da Gama.
In a move that set the tone for his off-field exploits, Romario wed his 17-year-old sweetheart right there on Vasco’s pitch in 1988. Their wedding, broadcast live on national television, was a sensation. Five years later, he was packing his bags for Barcelona, where he didn’t take long to make a splash, quite literally, as he socked Diego Simeone square in the face.
His life was a whirlwind of goals, women, and no small amount of controversy. In 1994, Romario’s father was kidnapped by a terrifying gang from Rio. A £7 million ransom was demanded, but the kidnappers hadn’t counted on Romario’s old mates from the favela revealing their hideout. Armed police stormed the den, freeing his father and adding another chapter to Romario’s legend.
As the 1994 World Cup approached, Romario was in his prime. A fan of coaching tips, he pushed for including his buddy Edmundo in the team. When Brazilian icon Pele advised him to leave coaching to the coaches, Romario responded with a verbal uppercut, branding Pele “mentally retarded”. The manager didn’t bow to Romario’s demands and instead chose Bebeto, inciting Romario’s wrath. But on the pitch, the duo fired Brazil to World Cup glory.
Later, Romario revealed the rather unconventional method behind his success: “Good strikers” he pronounced, “can only score goals when they have had good sex on the night before a match.” Whether this nocturnal activity was with his wife or another companion, he didn’t say, but she wasn’t at the team hotel. His exploits earned him a divorce and an expanded reputation.
Living it up in the afterglow of World Cup glory, Romario continued his high-octane lifestyle. He found a new home at Valencia, but his partying ways didn’t sit well with manager Claudio Ranieri, who confronted him. Romario’s response? “I’ll worry about me; you worry about the team.”
His off-field exploits continued unabated. A bromance with Edmundo collapsed when Edmundo was picked over Romario for the Brazil squad, leading to a comical cartoon war on the walls of Romario’s Rio bar. When the young Ronaldo threatened his place in the squad, Romario attempted to lead him astray with a night of heavy boozing, but to no avail.
His career was winding down, but Romario was far from done. An irate fan invaded the training pitch, hurling six live chickens at him. Romario retaliated in kind, attacking the fan before being dragged off by the police.
In retirement, Romario swapped the pitch for politics, earning a seat in the Senate. His personal life, however, continued its rollercoaster ride. His third wife divorced him, and he rebounded with the 19-year-old American singer, Dixie Pratt, his daughter’s friend. In classic Romario style, Pratt hadn’t even been born when he was lifting the World Cup.
His advice to the next generation of Brazilian stars? When asked what guidance he’d give to promising striker Gabriel Jesus ahead of the 2018 World Cup, he responded: “The first thing I advise him to do is have lots of good sex.”
In a nutshell, Romario’s life reads like the plot of a raucous Brazilian soap opera – full of goals, gaffes, and plenty of “good sex”. A true character of the game, his escapades will long be remembered and celebrated just as much as his undeniable talent on the football pitch.